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Torchwood: From Out of the Rain & Adrift

We've got a special double edition of this week's Torchwood review, due to the BBC's 'wise' decision to move the show to a Friday timeslot and show two episodes last week.

From Out Of The Rain

PJ Hammond has adopted a slightly disquieted tone when interviewed about his Torchwood work, displaying resentment at being pigeon-holed by the production team as the series’ source of supernatural and surreal horror. Unexpectedly, this appears to have improved his work, with the writer’s determination to escape his creative confinement resulting in a superb episode, with considerably more depth than its initial premise suggests.

From the “Next Time” trailer at the end of Something Borrowed, it’s clear exactly what should be expected from this episode: a creepy ghost story, complete with sinister clowns and a haunted cinema. Ten minutes in, little that’s happened contradicts this impression. A suitably sinister figure has been introduced, as has a stock family whose lives can be turned upside down by the occult. Torchwood has blundered into events, with a social outing bringing the team into contact with the threat. The story seems set up to use the same plot device as many J-horror films, taking an innocuous daily object, and giving it a means of stealing the souls of those exposed to it. The enchanted projector and film reel with a life of its own creates this impression, but what seals the viewers’ expectation is the moment when Jack appears in the travelling show footage. At this point, the path of the story appears to be set: the film will suck in those who watch it and leave them trapped, beginning with Jack. However, this element is quickly exposed as a red herring, with Jack explaining that he was actually filmed participating in the act shown. Hammond then launches the story off in an unexpected direction, showing a horror from a bygone age trying to survive in a changed world, blissfully unaware that the “cutting edge” technology it exploits is already outdated.

Rather than presenting a horrific but uncomplicated opponent, the writer frequently makes the audience sympathetic to the enemy that Torchwood faces. On the silver screen, Ghost Maker is a terrifying figure, and it’s easy to assume that this beckoning spectre will be an implacable force to rival Bilis and Adam in Torchwood’s rogues’ gallery. In the flesh, however, he is simply too bizarre a creature to instil fear- for once, the dismissive reaction of a monster’s first victim seems appropriate. He’s obviously the driving force behind the Night Travellers, but appears strangely directionless after his initial breakout from the Electro- it takes his companion to suggest the fairly obvious step of resurrecting the rest of their troupe. The writer takes a very bold approach, scripting much of the story as a sequel to the pre-credits sequence. In his element, Ghost Maker is a metaphor for the power of entertainment, with a breathtaking spectacle winning over the hearts (and souls) of his audience. Hammond provides no origin story for the Night Travellers, but the episode does not demand one- the concept is clear, and needs no elaboration. In the present day, external stimuli to the imagination are more readily accessible, so while the monster’s power remains, the ethos that drove it is absent, leaving Ghost Maker reduced to a mere serial killer. His impotence is emphasised in his only direct confrontation with a member of the team, where Owen proves completely immune to his assault. Even more so than the ringmaster, Pearl comes across as being strangely pitiful. In her native time, her act consisted of simply appearing slightly damp. In the present day, she largely remains in the background, but even when she does take centre stage, the results add to this impression of inadequacy. Rising up from the bathtub in Jonathan’s editing suite isn’t intended to scare her unfortunate audience- it’s simply part of her act, and she is visibly surprised to be greeted by screams rather than applause. The moment when she is found crouching in the remains of an abandoned and forgotten swimming pool underlines that the Night Travellers’ time is long gone.

Considerably weaker are the writing and performances relating to the other guest characters, but despite initial impressions, it is only the youngest member of the Penn family who plays any real part in the story. Hammond’s treatment of the regular characters is sound, and confirmation that Ianto spent his youth in Cardiff before moving to London makes his local knowledge more credible. Also laudable is the duration of the episode. After Last of the Time Lords and Voyage of the Damned demanded extended running times to do justice to the stories in question, its encouraging to see a willingness to close the story five minutes short of the normal Torchwood episode length, as padding would have diluted the material’s impact. Basset’s direction is subtle, but considerably aids the story. The jump-shocks are well executed, and we are given a glimpse of Owen’s bandaged hand to remind us of his undead state a few seconds before it plays a part in the plot. Such unqualified praise unfortunately cannot be given to the effects used in the episode. The CG used to realise Ghost Maker’s flask is extremely poor, and the situation has to be rescued by the high quality make-up on his dehydrated victims. Despite the production team’s claims to the contrary in the accompanying documentary, the Night Traveller’s circus appears extremely sparse, and the low production values here would have hampered the storytelling if any more time were to be spent at the showground. The return to Torchwood’s trademark “Cardiff in the rain” night-scenes suffer no such deficiencies, being universally well-executed.

Small Worlds explored a number of threats to childhood, including paedophilia and abusive parents. However, these elements felt more like an adult’s fears than a child’s, and never really developed into a coherent story. Despite its unexpected turns From Out Of The Rain never feels inconsistent, with Hammond giving the viewer just enough background information to allow the story to unfold steadily. By intimately tying a visual style to his tale, Hammond adds cohesion and frees himself to add unexpected poignancy to the story.

Five Stars


The first Torchwood bottle episode was one of the most influential episodes of the initial run, although not in the way its creators intended. Universally regarded as the nadir of Series One, a drastic change in policy ensued to prevent a repeat of the Random Shoes fiasco. Instead of being afterthoughts, these instalments of Doctor Who Series Three and the Sarah Jane Adventures had high profile writers attached. In the case of Torchwood Series Two, however, the tinkering with the regular characters means that the story is a job best left to the lead writer.

Adrift is superficially similar to its predecessor, as Gwen undertakes an investigation virtually single handedly, exploring the human interest angle to a minor sci-fi incident in the face of opposition from her boss. However, Chibnall makes a number of adjustments to overcome the problems which befell Random Shoes. Although John Barrowman is not given significantly more material than in last year’s bottle episode, Jack is much more integral to the plot. The human interest angle to this story is much stronger than in the original bottle episode, with Nikki’s desire to recover her son a much more pressing matter than Eugene’s academic curiosity about the manner of his death. Keen to make the episode an integral part of the series overall story, the writer decides to use this script to restore some of the edginess to Rhys’s view of Torchwood. Given the extent of Rhys’s disenchantment with his wife’s employer, Chibnall chooses to doubly link the organisation with the episode’s plot, making it both the investigator of the mystery and its solution. This, however, creates its own difficulties.

The notion of Torchwood secretly looking after those harmed by the rift is a perfectly plausible one, but the implementation somehow fails to sit easily with the rest of the show. The first problem is simply with the realisation of the care home. The concrete outbuildings are perfectly acceptable- this is clearly a former military or secret service facility that Jack has had converted to its present use. However, the interior is styled as a dungeon, with only token additions made to convey that people live here. It feels rather fanish, not to say unreasonable, to complain that we’ve seen nothing of this installation to date- such an objection implies that every aspect of a concept should be demonstrated fully in its first outing. However, there are two possibilities for the Flat Holm hospice, neither of which do much credit to the series. The first is that it will become a permanent addition to the series’ setup, in which case Chibnall and Davies really should have taken some steps to foreshadow its inclusion, such as having Jack mysteriously absent from the Hub on occasion or Ianto processing unusual payments. Presenting plot elements such as Lisa’s presence in the Hub’s lower levels or the ability of the water tower equipment’s ability to open the rift as fait accompli was one of the worse habits of the first series of the show, and severely damaged its credibility. The second, and more likely, option is that Flat Holm is a throwaway inclusion, which will not be referred to again. This, however, belittles the discoveries which have made such an impression on Gwen, and makes the episode feel rather inconsequential.

It says a lot about the lack of material given to Tom Price that his character is still universally referred to as “PC Andy”, despite having been a feature of the show since it started. The fact that Andy is the only real point of contact between the authorities and Torchwood has been a sore point in the show, and it was hoped that Series Two would address this issue. Rather than correct this problem, Chibnall takes the opportunity to explain the present situation, showing that Andy remains in contact with Gwen due to his unrequited crush on her. It’s a good solution to the issue, although the viewer is left in two minds as the whether the reason for reason for Andy’s absence from Gwen’s wedding was really the character’s unresolved feelings or the difficulties that would result from fitting him into the anarchy which unfolded. In many ways the most pressing character issue addressed by the story is that of Gwen’s lost naivety when it comes to the extraordinary. It was hardly credible that Cooper would maintain her initial passionate attachment to the everyday, and Nikki’s plight succeeds in both highlighting the changes that have been made to her character and providing a compelling explanation for why she strives so hard to avoid becoming completely hardened to the world she works in. The story also tentatively explores the issue of why Torchwood remains secret, and it’s a tribute to the quality of Chibnall’s writing that Nikki’s change in attitude, from crusading truth seeker to disowning her knowledge, does not feel at all contrived.

The perfect macrocosm for the story is the changes in Gwen and Rhys’s relationship. When the story starts, having not seen the couple since their wedding, the viewer assumes that all is well and that Gwen is managing to balance both halves of her life. As the story progresses, in becomes clear that this is not the case, and that Torchwood is having a detrimental impact on their marriage. However, events cause Gwen to reassess her views, and the two are reconciled. It’s all well written and performed, but merely restores the status quo which was present at the outset of the episode.

3 Stars

About this entry


I have to disagree with Adrift - I thought it was terrible. I liked the premise but it just didn't work. It could have been really creepy, or really camp, but was neither and just felt flat. I didn't notice the sympathy angle when I saw it - I quite like it as an idea but it evidently wasn't done well enough to register.

By Simon
March 28, 2008 @ 12:20 am

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I've watched Random Shoes a couple of times now , its not that bad - its got a nice premise , seeing a death from the point of a victim and following it around , its big failing admittedly is the ending , which is shit , but that does sem to be a problem for who telefantasy. I thought it was a much better idea than cuntryside .
BTW what do you mean by 'bottle' episode ? Never heard the term beforeso I can only assume you mean the equivient of 'doclite' or '2 header'

By UriGagarin
March 28, 2008 @ 2:22 am

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Er yeah, I obviously meant From Out of the rain and not Adrift. Ahem

I assume a bottle episode means a standalone, filler episode filmed in downtime between other eps, when not all actors are available for the duration (hence the Gwen/Rhys/Jack focus)?

By Simon
March 28, 2008 @ 4:01 pm

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Not sure this is the best definition:

...since it underplays the importance of being in a self-contained environment for the bulk of the episode. Which, y'know, is what the whole 'bottle' term is about.

With that in mind, I'm not sure I'd class Adrift or Random Shoes as bottle shows. Money-savers, sure - and in the case of the latter a cast-saver akin to Who's Love & Monsters - but they both made a feature of going to new environments (and on location, too). Which, for me, makes 'em not-very-bottley.

By Andrew
March 28, 2008 @ 4:40 pm

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Both episodes were the worst of the series so far IMO (this picked up with ep 12, 'Fragments') which was quite upsetting (not sure if that's the right word...) considering RTD mentioned they were the darkest episodes of anything he'd ever been involved with. It just goes to show that 'dark' does not necessarily mean good. And it seems 'P.J. Hammond' doesn't either.

Whether the direction had anything to do with it I don't know but after a brilliant first 15 minutes or so it went downhill. Why bring in the setup of Jack being in the circus and not pay it off? The same goes for Ianto's involvement in the story. I thought it was gonna lead to something really good when it started off with him mentioning his dad and how they used to go to that cinema. Instead it was just more unnecessarily emo Ianto. The best thing was seeing (and hearing) Julian Bleach in action. My my is he the right person for that certain particular role who may or may not feature in the Who series 4 finale. Davros, I mean. His voice is a little like the classic Davros actor Michael Wisher, which of course is a great thing.

Adrift...some at OG were saying 'best episode ever!' The thing is, it wasn't. Chibnall comes stomping in and unnecessarily fucks up the Gwen and Rhys characters again as though the wedding episode never happened, and then he goes on to try and make Jack seem more sinister and secretive, something which just canNOT work. You just can't take Barrowman seriously as being the darker version of Jack! The plot itself was OK, but again hammered home with one of those huge rubber mallets. The tone was all over the place too. Was mostly dark but then moments of pure comedy like Gwen walking in on Jack and Ianto 'comforting' each other in the office.

By performingmonkey
March 28, 2008 @ 5:55 pm

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From Out Of The Rain I liked. Though it's hard to disagree with some of the crit. I'll need to see it again, really.

One of the things that gets me about Adrift is the employment of the 'Jack kept this secret' thing. Because, frankly, who DIDN'T think that was going on? As soon as he says 'leave it alone', you know; yet what we find he could have just explained, really.

You can do the shock reveal in Buffy because we have absolute faith in Giles. We trust him utterly, so the revelation of a secret or betrayal is a surprise. With Jack, it's like 'Yep, there's another thing he hasn't told anyone'.

Also: the shouting thing was really poorly executed.

By Andrew
March 28, 2008 @ 8:02 pm

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I believe that the term "Bottle Episode" arose due to the action being contained in existing sets; the classic example is Start Trek episodes which are only set within the Enterprise. I've probably been mis-using the term when I mean "double-banked", as Love & Monsters, Blink, Random Shoes etc. were written so that they could be shot at the same time as another block. RTD called Boomtown a bottle episode in interviews, and I was under the impression that the term has stuck. However, with the exeption of Whatever Happened To Sarah Jane, the goal since Who Series One has been to minimise use of the cast rather than the budget. In the case of Adrift, the episode was recorded while the main crew were filming the Gwen-lite Fragments.

It's interesting that I'm in a minority over From Out Of The Rain- this seems to come down to a difference of view over the Night Travellers and the plot as displayed at the opening. Much of my enjoyment came from believing that the Night Travellers were being deliberately protrayed as ineffective and that the opening was intended as misdirection. If you regard these elements as accidental, then obviously you'll end up with a very different view of the story...

By Julian Hazeldine
March 28, 2008 @ 9:12 pm

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I liked "From Out Of The Rain" a lot, largely because it had such a "Who" feel in the villains and the general story; more telefantasy than sci-fi. My only real problems with it were minor: like the woman in the psychiatric hospital who seemed to be there purely because she had been scared by the Ghost Maker in her childhood; it didn't seem credible that she'd have ended up in an institution because the character was played as essentially well-balanced. People who've had something traumatic happen in childhood and who still get scared by reminders of it don't actually end up in psychiatric care; Torchwood writers take note.

"Adrift" was a good idea done badly. As has been said above the "Jack's secret" aspect didn't really hit home because we're not surprised if Jack's been keeping something from Gwen and the rest of the team; it's something we expect of the character. I also thought that the ending with the boy's mother saying she wished she'd never been told was lame. Most people who have a close one missing would kill to know that they're alive and know they can visit them even if for a few hours a day. It only seemed to be included to somehow force us all to think that Jack's extraordinarily-insensitive decision to pretend the rift victims were dead and hide the truth from their families was somehow the correct option. Also (and this is a minor irritation as with the woman in the psychiatric hospital in FoorR) but the "screaming for most of the day" thing didn't really work. If the boy/man had been shown breaking-down or becoming violent or something it might have been effective but having him turn into a living version of the old TV closedown-tone just came across as silly.

By Zagrebo
March 28, 2008 @ 10:09 pm

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The best thing was in the Declassified where it showed how it's the actor's real scream, just edited to last longer and with a small amount of effects added. Doing it that way was loads better than adding a generic monster scream or something.

I was under the impression that 'A Day In The Death' (episode 8) was also shot as a 'lite' episode of sorts.

By performingmonkey
March 29, 2008 @ 3:36 am

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> I believe that the term "Bottle Episode" arose due to the action being contained in existing sets

What he said.

By Andrew
March 31, 2008 @ 1:34 am

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